• Border Violence Monitoring Network - Report July 2019

    The Border Violence Monitoring Network just published a common report summarizing current developments in pushbacks and police violence in the Western Balkans, mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and along the Serbian borders with Croatia and Hungary.

    Due tu a new cooperation with the Thessaloniki-based organisation Mobile Info Team, we were also able to touch on the Status quo of pushbacks from and to Greece.

    This report analyzes, among other things:

    – BiH politicians’ rhetoric on Croatian push-backs
    – Whistleblowers increasing pressure on Croatian authorities
    – Frontex presence in Hungarian push-backs to Serbia
    – The use of k9 units in the apprehension of transit groups in Slovenia
    – The spatial dispersion of push-backs in the Una-Sana Canton

    Competing narratives around the legality of pushbacks have emerged, muddying the waters. This has become especially clear as Croatian president Grabar-Kitarovic admitted that pushbacks were carried out legally, which is contradictory to begin with, and that “of course […] a little violence is used.” Croatia’s tactic of de facto condoning illegal pushbacks is similar to Hungary’s strategy to legalize these operations domestically, even though they violate international and EU law. On the other side of the debate, a whistleblower from the Croatian police described a culture of secrecy and institutional hurdles, which prevent legal and organizational challenges to the practice. The role of the EU in this debate remains critical. However, despite paying lip service to the EU’s value, Brussels’ continues to shoulder the bill for a substantial part of the frontier states’ border operations.


    #frontières #violence #push-back #refoulement #route_des_Balkans #Frontex #Subotica #Bosnie-Herzégovine #Croatie #Italie #Serbie #Hongrie #rapport

    • Croatia Is Abusing Migrants While the EU Turns a Blind Eye

      The evidence of Croatian police violence toward migrants is overwhelming, but Brussels continues to praise and fund Zagreb for patrolling the European Union’s longest external land border.

      BIHAC, Bosnia and Herzegovina—Cocooned in a mud-spattered blanket, thousands of euros in debt, and with a body battered and bruised, Faisal Abas has reached the end of the line, geographically and spiritually. A year after leaving Pakistan to seek greener pastures in Europe, his dreams have died in a rain-sodden landfill site in northern Bosnia. His latest violent expulsion from Croatia was the final straw.

      “We were just a few kilometers over the border when we were caught on the mountainside. They wore black uniforms and balaclavas and beat us one by one with steel sticks,” he recalled. “I dropped to the ground and they kicked me in the belly. Now, I can’t walk.”

      Faisal rolled up his trousers to reveal several purple bruises snaking up his shins and thighs. He has begun seeking information on how to repatriate himself. “If I die here, then who will help my family back home?” he said.

      The tented wasteland outside the Bosnian city of Bihac has become a dumping ground for single male migrants that the struggling authorities have no room to accommodate and don’t want hanging around the city. Bhangra music blasts out of a tinny speaker, putrid smoke billows from fires lit inside moldy tents, and men traipse in flip-flops into the surrounding woods to defecate, cut off from any running water or sanitation.

      A former landfill, ringed by land mines from the Yugoslav wars, the hamlet of Vucjak has become the latest squalid purgatory for Europe’s largely forgotten migrant crisis as thousands escaping war and poverty use it as a base camp to cross over the Croatian border—a process wryly nicknamed “the game.”

      The game’s unsuccessful players have dark stories to tell. A young Pakistani named Ajaz recently expelled from Croatia sips soup from a plastic bowl and picks at his split eyebrow. “They told us to undress and we were without shoes, socks, or jackets. They took our money, mobiles and bags with everything inside it, made a fire and burnt them all in front of us. Then they hit me in the eye with a steel stick,” he said. “They beat everyone, they didn’t see us as humans.”

      Mohammad, sitting beside his compatriot, pipes up: “Last week we were with two Arabic girls when the Croatian police caught us. The girls shouted to them ‘sorry, we won’t come back,’ but they didn’t listen, they beat them on their back and chest with sticks.”

      Down the hill in Bihac, in a drafty former refrigerator factory turned refugee facility, a metal container serves as a quarantine area for the infectious and infirm. Mohammad Bilal, a scrawny 16-year-old, lies on a lower bunk with his entire leg draped in flimsy bandage. Three weeks ago, at the cusp of winning the game and crossing into Italy, he was seized in Slovenia and then handed back to Croatia. That’s when the violence began.

      “They drove us in a van to the Bosnian border and took us out one at a time,” he said, describing the Croatian police. “There were eight police, and one by one they beat us, punching, kicking, hitting with steel sticks. They broke my leg.”

      A nearby Bosnian camp guard grimaced and wondered out loud: “Imagine how hard you have to hit someone to break a bone.”

      Among the fluctuating migrant population of 7,000 thought to be in the area, vivid descriptions of violent episodes are being retold every day. The allegations have been mounting over the last two years, since Bosnia became a new branch in the treacherous Balkan migratory route into Europe. Denunciations of Croatian border policy have come from Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, Human Rights Watch, and a United Nations special rapporteur. Officials in Serbia have even alleged “physical and psychological torture” by Croatia’s police forces.

      In November 2018, the Guardian published a video shot by a migrant in which haunting screams can be heard before a group of migrants emerge from the darkness wild-eyed and bloodied. A month later, activists secretly filmed Croatian police marching lines of migrants back into Bosnian territory.

      Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic even appeared to let the cat out of the bag in an interview with the Swiss broadcaster Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, during which she remarked that “a little bit of force is needed when doing pushbacks.” Despite the videos showing injured migrants, explicit video evidence of Croatian officials carrying out actual beatings has never been seen, and migrants report that one of the first commands by border guards is to surrender mobile phones, which are then either taken or destroyed before a thorough search is performed.

      The abuse appears to be rampant. Both the violence and humiliation—migrants are often forced to undress and walk back across the border to Bosnia half-naked for several hours in freezing temperatures—seem to be used as a deterrent to stop them from returning. And yet the European Union is arguably not only facilitating but rewarding brute force by a member state in the name of protecting its longest land border.

      In December 2018, the European Commission announced that it was awarding 6.8 million euros to Croatia to “strengthen border surveillance and law enforcement capacity,” including a “monitoring mechanism” to ensure that border measures are “proportionate and are in full compliance with fundamental rights and EU asylum laws.”

      According to European Commission sources, a sum of 300,000 euros was earmarked for the mechanism, but they could not assess its outcome until Croatia files a report due in early 2020. Details of oversight remain vague. A spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency in Croatia told Foreign Policy that the agency has no involvement. The Croatian Law Center, another major nongovernmental organization, also confirmed it has no role in the mechanism. It appears to be little more than a fig leaf.


    • AYS Special 2019/2020: A Year of Violence — Monitoring Pushbacks on the Balkan Route

      In 2019, The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) shared the voices of thousands of people pushed back from borders on the Balkan Route. Each tells their own tale of illegal, and regularly violent, police actions. Each represents a person denied their fundamental rights, eyewitnesses to EU led reborderization. This article shares just some of the more startling trends which define border management on the eve of 2020, such as the denial of asylum rights, systemic firearms use, water immersion, and dog attacks.

      With a shared database of 648 reports, BVMN is a collaborative project of organisations with the common goal of challenging the illegal pushback regime and holding relevant institutions to account.

      “Pushback” describes the unlegislated expulsion of groups or individuals from one national territory to another, and lies outside the legal framework of “deportations”. On a daily basis, people-on-the-move are subject to these unlawful removals; a violent process championed by EU member states along the Balkan Route. In 2019, BVMN continued to shine a spotlight on these actions, perpetrated in the main part by states such as Croatia, Hungary, and Greece. Supporting actors also included Slovenia and Italy, and non-member states with the aid of Frontex which has seen its remit and funding widened heading into 2020.

      Volunteers and activists worked across the route in 2019 to listen to the voice of people facing these violations, taking interviews in the field and amplifying their calls for justice. Just some of the regular abuses that constitute pushbacks are listed below.
      Guns and Firearm Abuse

      The highest volume of BVMN reported pushbacks were from Croatia, a state which has been acting as a fulcrum of the EU’s external border policy in the West Balkans. It’s approximately 1300 kilometer long border with the non-member states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro have been a flashpoint for extremely violent pushbacks. Even in the challenging winter conditions, people make daily attempts to cross through the mountainous landscape of Croatia and are pushed back from the territory by a web of police actors who deny them the proper procedure and use crude physical abuse as a deterrent.

      Of major concern is the huge rise in gun use by Croatian officials against transit populations. In the first ten months of 2019 BVMN recorded 770 people who were pushed back by police officers who used guns to shoot or threaten. In November, shots were fired directly at transit groups, resulting in the near fatal wounding of one man, and causing a puncture wound in the shoulder of another. AYS reported on the shooting of two minors in 2017, showing this isn’t the first time guns were turned on unarmed transit people in Croatia.
      Dog Attacks and K9 Units

      The use of canine units in the apprehension and expulsion of transit groups is also a telling marker of the extreme violence that characterises pushbacks. Since the summer of 2019, a spike in the level of brutal dog attacks, and the presence of K9 units during pushbacks has been noted by BVMN. In a recent case, one man was mauled by a Croatian police dog for ten minutes under the direct guidance of the animals police handlers who laughed and shouted, “good, good”, as it almost severed a major blood vessel in the victim’s leg.

      Fortunately, the man survived, but with permanent injuries that he nurses still today in Bosnia-Herzegovina where he was illegally pushed back, in spite of his request for asylum and urgent physical condition. Sadly this is not an unfamiliar story. Across the route canine units remain a severe threat within pushbacks, as seen in cases recorded from North Macedonia to Greece where a man was severely bitten, or in chain a pushback from Slovenia where 12 unmuzzled police dogs traumatised a large transit group. Dogs as weapons are a timely reminder of the weighting of border policy towards violent aggression, and away from due legal access to asylum and regulated procedure.
      Gatekeeping Asylum Access

      K9 units and guns are ultra-violent policing methods that contribute directly to the blocking of asylum access. In the first eleven months of 2019, over 60% of Croatian pushbacks to Bosnia-Herzegovina saw groups make a verbal request for asylum. Yet in these cases, group members were pushed back from the territory without having their case heard, in direct contravention of European asylum law.

      Croatian authorities, along with a host of other states, have effectively mobilised pushbacks to remove people from their territories irrespective of claims for international protection. A host of actors, such as police officers and translators have warped the conditions for claiming asylum, regularly coercing people to sign removal documents, doctoring the ages of minors, or avoid any processing at all by delivering them to the green border immediately where they are pushed back with violence. Slovenia are also participants in this chain of asylum violation, seen most brutally in a case from July when pepper spray was used to target specifically the people who spoke out asking for asylum.
      Wet Borders: River Pushbacks

      Most pushbacks occur at remote areas of the green border, especially at night, where violence can be applied with effective impunity. A particular feature of police violence on the border is the weaponisation of rivers to abuse groups. Monitoring work from September revealed 50% of direct pushbacks from Croatia involved respondents being forced into rivers or immersed in water. This is accompanied regularly by the stripping of people (often to their underwear) and burning of their possessions. Then, police officer push them into the rivers that mark the boundary with Bosnia-Herzegovina (often the Glina and Korana), putting people at a high risk of drowning and hypothermia.

      A recent case from November combined the use of firearms with this dangerous use of wet borders. A group of Algerians were pushed into a river by Croatian officers who were returning them to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

      The respondent recalled how: “They pushed me into the river and said, ‘Good luck.’”, while the officers fired guns into the air.

      Meanwhile in the Evros region of Greece, the river border is used regularly to pushback people-on-the-move into Turkey. As in Croatia, the incidents often occur at night, and are carried out by officials wearing ski masks/balaclavas. Taken by force, transit groups report being loaded violently onto small boats and ferried across to the Turkish side. This regular and informal system of removal stands out as a common violation across Greece and the Balkan area, and raises major concerns about the associated risks of water immersion given the high levels of drowning which occur in the regions rivers.
      2019 at the EU’s Doorstep

      Border management on the Balkan Route has systematised a level of unacceptable, illegal and near fatal violence.

      The trends noted in 2019 are an astonishing reminder that such boundaries are no longer governed by the rule of law, but characterised almost entirely by the informal use of pushback violations.

      Gun use stands out as the most extreme marker of violence within pushbacks. But the shooting of weapons sits within a whole arsenal of policing methods that also include blunt physical assault, unlawful detention, abuse during transportation, taser misuse and stripping. Though Croatia emerged as a primary actor within BVMN’s dataset, common practive between EU member states were also clear, as across the region: Hungary, Slovenia and Greece continued to target people-on-the-move with a shared set of illegal and violent methods. The new interventions of Frontex outside of EU territory also look to compliment this reborderisation effort, as non-member states in the Western Balkans become integrated into the pushback regime.

      The Border Violence Monitoring Network will continue to elevate the brave voices of those willing to expose these violent institutions. Their stories are a testament to the dire situation at Europe’s borders on the eve of 2020, and accountability will continue to be sought.

      #2019 #chiens #armes #armes_à_feu